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I stated writing this one week ago. I'll never finish it so here is the condensed version.
It was 52 degrees when I got up Sunday morning. Not that I really know that, having no thermometer. But I was told later on and I believe it.
It was the first nippy morning, signaling not only the rapid speed at which summer is drawing to a close, but also the inevitability that cross country season will be fast upon us. And that is my subject.
Pre-XC is a two-month pregnancy. From its conception in late June to late August each week is a growing entity. I don't think about it every minute, but I never quite forget about it either. It keeps kicking at me, making me aware of its impending existence.
E-mails come in from athletes. “How much should I run?” “Is it smart for me to do a race?” It seems like everyone I meet wants to know, “How the team will be this year?” Coaches, parents and supporters of the program use this as a lead in. It isn't a question I mind. They never get the answer I assume they are looking for because I honestly don't have a clue other than, “We'll be as good as we're willing to be.” Instead I talk about the athletes I have and what sort of a “team” they will be, since it is ever changing but always positive.
A week ago I considered the Falmouth Road Race as segue into serious cross-country mode. It is the weekend my mind focuses completely upon distance running – for every single waking minute. Not that it ever wanders far from my mind. But my summers are chuck full of other things – job, recreational activities, leisure interests, social obligations etc. Running isn't all I think about – not by a long shot. Even after a great weekend spent with a group of elite Kenyan athletes and getting to watch Emily race for the first time in years, this past week I settled right back into vacation mode. My mind drifted to shell fishing, kayaking and yard work.
Then came Sunday – my personal Cape Cod triathlon. It is my routine of a four-mile run, quarter mile swim and hitting Indian Neck to collect 10 quarts of oysters and little necks. It is a ritual that strengthens the body, calms the soul and nourishes me in both the literal and figurative. For me, shell fishing and swimming require concentration. But I could run in my sleep. Now wouldn't that save time!
The coolness made running easier and the time flew even if my feet didn't. I know I wasn't moving any faster than usual, but the chill allowed me to disassociate from my own actions and think a lot about the upcoming season and my own approach to it. After all these years of coaching I still question every step. Everything done has to have a reason behind it. So I'm constantly asking myself questions. Do we keep this workout? What changes need to be made? How will practices need to be altered to fit a new group – especially this year – considering how diverse the team will be?
But as always, I'm content to let things morph. The season will be shaped as much by the athletes as the coach. Opportunity to make success more likely has been in their hands, with minimal direction from the coach. At our pre-season meeting, I spelled out the formula that has worked for athletes from Maggie Dunn to Karen Violet, from Lynn Liberatore to Cheryl Lyons, from Meghan Clay to Jessica Blake, and from Jenna Banks to Steph McNamara. The formula is summer mileage – and either the athlete invests in their potential or not.
Not that the coach doesn't bear some responsibility. There's an element of motivation he can lend to athletes. But they have to take it – and excuse the awful pun – run with it. Tomorrow we'll meet up and have our first practice. From then on it will be a joint venture. We'll have our hopes and dreams and see what we can do to make them reality.